help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Naming Patterns Changes Patterns

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C 

Update: I’ve been on hiatus from writing for a while and I return with good news.  I’ve been asked to contribute a couple of chapters to the new Kinship Parenting Toolbox, scheduled to be released in Fall of 2013. For updates on the upcoming book you can “like” the Facebook page: TheKinshipParentingToolbox .

It can be hard to break old routines. Do you ever find yourself doing the same habitual complaining, arguing, nagging or run around? One way to break the pattern is to name it and even insert a little humor. It only took my husband and I the first ten years of our marriage to figure this one out. It is rare for us to travel without each other. It happens maybe once or twice a year. At some point one of us figured out that whenever we were traveling without the other we got into an argument the night before over nothing I can remember. We always parted annoyed. I can’t remember who figured it out but during one such argument one of us happened to say something along the lines of, “Do we always have to fight before one of us leaves?” Hmmm. We got curious for a minute and figured out the pattern. Instead of digging into our old routine, we changed it up a bit. When it happened again (yes it happened again). One of us said, “Oh, this is the part where we fight because you’re leaving tomorrow.” It completely took the wind out of the sails of that fight. We actually laughed. We were arguing because we love each other and were going to miss each other’s company. Getting curious about the ritual and finding a loving meaning behind it, rather than sitting alone in angry confusion helped us to get past it and even laugh about it. Naming what is really going on behind a tiff is now a regular ritual for my husband and I. It makes our marriage happier and stronger. We laugh a lot.

We can do this with children too. Instead of winding into the same old argument, put on a silly voice, I prefer Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

Eeyore as depicted by Disney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and say, “Oh dear, this is where I ask you to put your shoes on and you tell me you don’t know where they are and wait for me to find them.”

Shake your head and dramatically cry out, “Why must I daily be plagued by missing shoes?!?!” (Think over-dramatic Lady Violet from Downton Abbey if you are a fan).

downton-abbey-episode-7

downton-abbey-episode-7 (Photo credit: Evian Tsai)

The typical response of children is to look at you like you have three heads, then start looking for the shoes during this fun game you just started. The trick is, if you are going to be dramatic, be really over the top.

Of course you can do it in a slightly more serious way, like my husband and I did. But with kids, I like dramatic, silly, “out crazy the crazy” as Christine Moers says. She speaks about it in relation to traumatized and attachment disordered children but I see it work with all children and, quite honestly, it’s just more fun than being so darn serious all the time. I mean, don’t you ever get tired of the tit for tat stuff that goes on in your home? You know, the “you did this so now I have to do that” stuff between you and the other members of your household or between siblings? Next time you see a pattern you’re tired of, go ahead and try naming it. Start with checking your tone to make it silly or light and say something like “This is when we…” or “This is the part where I usually…” or “Oh, I think I know what’s going on here. We’ve done this before! This is where…”

Let me know how it works!

Related links:

The Perils of Perfectionism in Parenting (help4yourfamily.com)

Laugh and Your Family Laughs With You (help4yourfamily.com)

Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious (help4yourfamily.com)

August 8, 2013 Posted by | affirmations, attachment disorder, child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, relationship issues | 1 Comment

Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities

I just wanted to send out a quick reminder that this weekend is the last chance to sign up for two great opportunities. One is the chance to participate in the first Mother’s Weekend Retreat. Saturday is the last day to register! Here is the information:

Moms Renewal Retreat 2013

The second is for mental health professionals to participate this coming Monday in a Continuing Education training where you will have a chance to learn about the importance of attachment and how to help clients who have developed an unhealthy attachment pattern. You can find the information for this training on this website. or by going to www.lisaferentz.com.

Please let me know if you have questions about either activity.

Thank you!

Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

April 25, 2013 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, counseling, family, Groups/ trainings, help for parents, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!

I am very excited to share the announcement of my first Mother’s Retreat Weekend  co-facilitated by me and Sharon Fuller, owner of The Attachment Place, especially for adoptive and foster mom’s with children with attachment related issues. If I am talking about you, please think about giving yourself the gift of 24 hours with other mom’s who can relate to what you are going through. If I am describing your wife or partner, this would be a perfect Mother’s Day gift! For more information, click the link below. We have a very limited number of people we can accommodate so please do not delay and sign up today! Feel free to contact me for more info or to sign up.

For mom’s that do not fit into this category, don’t worry, I’ve got something in the works for you too…

Below is a description of the retreat and beneath that is a link to the full announcement. I hope to see you there.

Ladies, give yourself a gift this Mother’s Day weekend. Join us for a time of renewal for your mind, body, and spirit. This retreat has been created with you in mind. It is just for mothers of adopted, and/or foster children, with attachment related issues. Come join a small group of women who are looking to practice some self-care techniques, learn about healthy food choices for themselves and their children, add a few new tools to their parenting toolkit, and meet other mothers who are dealing with the same issues you are. Learn about how to keep yourself from being triggered by your child(ren), who are experts at pushing your buttons. Revisit and adjust your parenting goals in light of what you learn, and leave feeling refreshed, and better equipped to parent your child with attachment challenges.

When: Friday, May 10, 2013, 4:00 PM – Saturday, May 11, 2013, 4:00 PM Where: The Attachment Place, LLC, located in Lothian, MD Cost: $375 per person, which includes your room, all food, including a gourmet meal, and materials. A massage therapist will be available on-site for an additional charge, if there is enough interest. Space is limited, so sign up today! A deposit of approximately one half of the cost ($188.00) is due by April 27, 2013. Pay via credit card or check. A convenience fee of 3% will be added to each credit card payment. Make checks payable to The Attachment Place, LLC. For our mailing address, please visit our website at: www.theattachmentplace.com

Moms Renewal Retreat 2013 (1)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, children, family, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2

English: Typical Male Restroom in the U.S.

English: Typical Male Restroom in the U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In last week’s post, we looked at the possible origin for encopresis (soiling after the usual age for toilet training) and enuresis (wetting after the usual toilet training age) in older children with a history of trauma and/or neglect.There is something about an older child wetting or soiling themselves that can send parents into a fury, especially if the incident is perceived to be intentional. This is understandable. We all have buttons, and a big one for many of us involve the transmission of germs whether it’s via spit, mucus, vomit, urine or feces, we don’t want to be around it!

In this week’s post, now that you have a theory from last week about where the issue originates, I want to help you to figure out what to do to help your older child, who will often experience shame as a result of the incident. If you have any questions about implementing any of these strategies, I hope you will ask in the comments section, or discuss it with your child’s therapist.* One of the reasons I am writing this post is because there are very few therapists who specialize in this issue, so if your child’s therapist is not familiar with it, please think about printing out and taking in this article.

As I stated in the first post on older children with bathroom related problems, the first intervention is always to follow the suggestion of your child’s physician as we do not want to fix a broken bone with a band-aid and some medical intervention may be necessary. As sensitive as I know parents are about this issue, children are also very sensitive about it, even if they pretend to be aloof. In fact, I know one of the beliefs parents have that send them into a fury about older children wetting and soiling, is that their child does not even care about the fact that they are doing it when, in reality, often children that have this issue are experts at covering up their feelings so you do not know how humiliated/ angry/ frustrated they are.

Before I give you suggestions, I want to give two important guidelines for all the interventions I use with children. My number one guideline is to follow the PLACE parenting attitude whether your child has attachment disturbance or not. The second is to make sure your child is primed to receive help from you. What I mean by that is, ask your child if they want help. If they say “no,” DO NOT OFFER IT. When you offer children help and they don’t want it, you are only listening to yourself talk and asking to be frustrated. If you offer it, then back off. After you child has refused a couple of times and their refusal has been listened to and honored, their curiosity begins to take over and eventually they ask you what help you have to offer. Then, and only then, are they open to receiving and they will be primed to listen to your advice.

With that said, here is a list of ways I have helped children with enuresis and encopresis:

1. Especially if you recently adopted or started fostering your child, do not panic! You may have a child who is looking for buttons to push to get you upset or make you reject them. If you have an upset reaction, they may see that it gets a rise out of you and will be more likely to continue. Without over-reacting, try to employ natural consequences, i.e. the child has to clean up the mess as appropriate for their developmental age. Remember to use your PLACE attitude, which means that humiliation and embarrassment of your child are not acceptable consequences. In fact, with a child that would purposefully wet or soil themselves, humiliation and embarrassment may actually reinforce the behavior in ways you did not anticipate. To better understand this concept you can read my Caught in the Loop post.

2. My first suggestion for someone with a child with ongoing problems of this nature is therapy. While my sample is quite skewed, I have not seen any children with this issue that did not experience a feeling of fear about the problem, often accompanied by humiliation, even if the behavior is perceived to be intentional by their parents. While moms and dads can be helpful in navigating those feelings, therapists are trained to add an additional and necessary layer of help. Also, as you well know, children are often more motivated to do something someone else suggests over the suggestion of their parents. You know your children do things for their teachers that they would not do for you and bringing the issue to the child’s attention while in therapy often gives a child an extra bit of motivation to work on it. Additionally, if your child has a history of trauma this includes the bathroom in any way, it is important for them to be able to process this history with a trained professional.

3. My most successful intervention in the area of helping older children with encopresis and enuresis is to reintroduce the idea of toilet training. Before you skip this idea because you think your child is too old to re-potty train, let me tell you that I have used this with children in their early teens with success. The reintroduction is delicate and goes like this (and, as I say in many of my posts, the tone is important…think about how Mr. Rogers would say it):

“I wonder if when you were younger and didn’t get what you needed, you might have missed out on some of the signs your body gives you when you need to go to the bathroom.”

It may take a few times of gently suggesting this to your child for them to begin to get curious with you. Suggest you could help them to learn how their body knows it needs to go. Think about this. Your body knows it needs to go when your bladder feels full. I teach kids to playfully ask their bladders out loud in my office, “Bladder, do you have to go to the bathroom?” You would be amazed how many children have quickly realized by asking that question that they do, indeed need to go…right then…and we end up taking a quick restroom break.

You can also point out that sometimes you have been able to tell when your child needs to go and that when kids are young and have parents that take good care of them, the parents often point out when a child is doing the potty dance. For some kids, we come up with a signal that the parent can make, rather than asking out loud in public whether a child needs to go. This works well with a child who has a history of being shamed or traumatized in relation to going to the bathroom,or who was never potty-trained appropriately.

4. An additional technique to use with children who were not properly potty-trained, is to teach each your child about controlling their bowels. One way I do this is to have children picture a balloon full of water. I tell them to picture the balloon turn over so that the opening of the balloon is on the bottom. If you are using your fingers to pinch the balloon, it is like the muscles around your bladder holding the pee or poop in. If you were to let go with your fingers, you would see the water come out of the balloon. For some balloons, you would have to give an extra squeeze from the top to empty it out. Bladders can be like this too. When I work with kids with issues controlling their bowels, I suggest to them that they picture the balloon as their bladder every time they need to go to the bathroom. Muscles hold the urine until you get to the toilet, then they let go and we make sure your bladder is emptied completely. For kids with urinary issues that are feeling brave, I also suggest kegals, where they start urinating, then try to stop the urine one or two times every time they go in order to build up the muscles (consult with a physician to make sure this is a good idea for your child).

Also, and many adults do not know this, there is a right way and a wrong way to empty your bowels. To most easily and completely empty your bladder, teach children to sit, leaning forward with their forearms resting on their thighs. Have a small stool near the toilet so children can put their feet on the stool making it so their knees are higher than their hips. This will help kids that hold onto stool and urine, to most easily and quickly relax and let go when they are going to the bathroom.

5. For kids with bowel issues, especially kids that hold it until it gets painful, I teach a quick exercise to help them control bowel functioning. This is good for relaxation as well. Lie on the floor and counting slowly to five, suck your belly in. Picture your belly button touching your spine. Then, again to a slow count of five, push your belly out until your belly button is actually sticking up. See if you can make the pulling your belly in, equal in time to the pushing of your belly out. Ideally, kids who are learning to control their bowels will do this exercise for 3 minutes a day. The typical response I get from kids when I teach them this exercise and they actually do it in my office is a moment afterward when they start to get excited (like the potty dance) then a request to go to the bathroom. Success!

For children where this does not work, see about helping them find a Pilates class in your area. Many of the Pilates exercises, strengthen the core and pelvic muscles allowing for greater control.

4. I find the toughest kids with bathroom issues are typically the ones who are doing urinating and soiling on purpose, although often the times they do it are few and far between. As I recommended in my previous post on this issue, it is important to figure out the why, but really the intervention for purposeful urinaters and soilers is to make sure they are in therapy with someone who works on teaching them to state their feelings. Often these kids need remedial learning in the expression of feelings, and, while parents can do some of this, a child therapist will have the training to find ways that work for your child to teach them the proper expression of big feelings. Sometimes this means helping them to understand that they will not be harshly punished for the expression of their feelings, and others it will mean having a therapist identify that your child may be experiencing a traumatic reenactment.

I know that this is a sensitive topic for many families and people do not want to be identified by leaving comments, however, if you have questions, or a suggestion that works that I forgot, please let me know. You can feel free to leave a comment or to contact me privately via email: helpforyourfamily@gmail.com

*see disclaimer

January 31, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, mental health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why does it happen? How Can You Help? Part 1

White Toilet Bowl in Malaysia

White Toilet Bowl in Malaysia (Photo credit: epSos.de)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

No one wants to talk about it. It’s a messy issue, and it stinks…literally. In my practice I see quite a few children who, at a much older age than usual, have bathroom issues, where either they wet themselves at night or during the day. Some even soil themselves. It is often a difficult issue for parents to bring up, and there I times I have seen a child for months before anyone is even willing to mention it, even though it is one of the questions I ask during my initial parent visit for children with attachment related issues. Many of the parents that come to me say it is the most embarrassing of all the issues their child has. It is also the thing that can make parents angry the fastest. After all, if you have a ten-year-old who just wet themselves in your car, it is easy to forget that there might be more going on than lack of self-control. Instead, we tend to focus on the fact that your car smells like urine and a ten-year-old did it!

When a child has a behavior like enuresis (wetting themselves during the night or daytime) or encopresis (soiling themselves), I always look for the root cause. It is important to know where this problem starts because often by knowing where something starts, we can figure out how to fix it in the most loving way possible. In this post I am going to focus on daytime wetting and soiling, as I believe that bed-wetting is an easier issue to find information about and can have a different origin than daytime wetting and soiling which I see most often in children with a history of trauma and neglect.

In my next post we will look at solutions to these problems. Until then, here is a list of questions to help you think about the origin of your child’s issue because when we know the origin, often the solution becomes clear.

1. “Has my child seen a doctor about this issue?” The first place to start with any problems involving the bladder is always with your child’s doctor. Even if your child has not been complaining about a bladder issue. Even if you asked them all the questions that go along with having a bladder infection, still go to get tested. This is important especially if your child has a history of neglect, since they will be more likely to be out of touch with their bodies so they may not be alert to discomfort until it is a major problem. Additionally, even when there is a mental health issue related to a child’s enuresis or encopresis, some children require a medical intervention because, especially for a child that holds on to bowel movements (bm’s), there can be a cycle of holding onto bm’s followed by a painful releasing that can require medical attention in order to stop the pain that reinforces the holding of the bm’s in the first place.

2. “Was my child properly potty-trained?” This may seem like a strange question to ask if you have an eight-year-old, however, if your eight-year-old was being potty trained by an abusive, and or actively drug-using parent, child-care worker, grandparent, etc. during the time when children normally get potty-trained (anywhere from 2-4.5 years old) then they may not have been taught in the ways that they were able to understand. It may be that no one ever walked them through proper wiping procedure after going to the bathroom. It may be that no one ever taught them how to tell if they need to go. Your child may have a developmental lag in this area because they were not able to “master” the developmental milestones that go with being properly potty trained. Additionally, if your child was not properly trained, they may not have developed the muscles that we do not even think about which we use everyday to control our bladder that keep us from our own embarrassing issues.

3. “Does my child have trauma associated with the bathroom?” It may be that your child avoids that bathroom because some bad stuff happened in and/or related to a bathroom at some point, or, they may have experienced trauma related to wetting or soiling themselves. Potty training is reported to be the developmental step during which a child is most likely to experience abuse. If you have a child who has experienced trauma, ask yourself if they may be avoiding the bathroom because it reminds them of something they would rather not think about. Maybe it was a place they hid from someone. Maybe it was a place where they or someone else they loved got hurt. Maybe they were beaten or threatened with harm if they had an accident during potty-training. For children with severe trauma, it may be that they experience a “trigger” wherein they feel terrified, and/or they may be experiencing a traumatic reenactment wherein they are re-experiencing a traumatic situation as their brain’s way of making sense of it and the experience is so intense that they end up peeing on or soiling themselves. An example I have often used comes from when I was a kid myself:

One night I woke up to a small fire in my room. No one was hurt and the house survived but it was scary. The fire truck came and it was pretty clear that things would have been way worse had I not woken up when I did.

Many years later when my children were very small, I remember taking my daughters out to play in the snow. It was a cold day and several people had made fires in their fireplaces. When I went to enter my own home (where we did not have a fire lit), I had a moment when the smell of smoke hit my nose, probably from a nearby chimney. I handed my youngest daughter to my husband and yelled, “Stay out of the house, there’s a fire!” Then I proceeded to run into the house, looking for smoke so I could see where the fire was.

Because I am telling you this story, I’m sure you have figured out by now that there was no fire, however, I can tell you that at the moment I entered my home, I was 100% certain that there was. The smell of smoke was the trigger and I responded accordingly. While it did not involve a wetting or soiling incident (lucky me) I think it does describe how our brains can get tricked for a moment into thinking something is happening again, even when it is not. As I said before, this can sometimes happen with enuresis and encopresis in children of all ages.

4. “Is my child pissed off?” Well, what is the best way to show someone that you are pissed off? Some of the kids that come to see me, intentionally urinate or defecate either on themselves, the furniture, or even mom’s prized photo album. If a child has not been given the tools to express feelings in a reasonable way, they express them in whatever way occurs to them at the time.

Any survivor of abuse or neglect that has not had adequate opportunity or support to process the impact of the trauma often carries an intense level of anger or rage inside. When the anger is not addressed, it comes out in other ways. Even though I have had parents report to me that their child does not act angry when they are urinating on furniture, it is possible that a child with an attachment disorder would seem relatively calm while seething with rage underneath. I liken it to the times when I have gone to the ocean and the lifeguards warned people not to go in the water because the undertow is too strong. The waves look the same to me but there is a pull underwater that you cannot see and that can carry you away from safety. Whether it is because they were not allowed to express feelings for fear of harm, or they gave up on expressing feelings because their feelings were not honored anyway, some children learn that the most effective way to express how they feel is by urinating or defecating intentionally.

5. “Is my child fearful of connection to others?” For children with attachment disorders, it is not uncommon for a child to make themselves seem repellent. I hear a lot about children who refuse to bathe even though they smell terrible, or who have disgusting habits that repulse their parents. If a child is fearful of connection, then feels connection despite that fear, they may do something to make themselves feel more comfortably distant. I see this sometimes when a child comes into my office and we have a moment when the child connects to her mother. Maybe she says something nice about her mom, or they share a hug. For a child where connection is terrifying due to early abuse or neglect, they may subconsciously find a way to reestablish a distance between themselves and their caregivers by wetting or soiling.

Now that we are getting curious about the origins of encopresis and enuresis in older children, in my next post, I will address what we can do about enuretic and encopretic older children.

Related articles:

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2 (help4yourfamily.com)

Caught in the Loop: Why People Repeat the Same Bad Choices Over and Over (help4yourfamily.com)

Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious (help4yourfamily.com)

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)

January 24, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, mental health | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Caught in the Loop: Why People Repeat the Same Bad Choices Over and Over

train circle

train circle (Photo credit: bitmapr)

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

When I met Aaron, he was 10 years old and living with his parents who had adopted him after three failed placements.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss about what to do with him.  They were committed, loving parents who wanted to help him make better decisions; however, after living with them for over a year, Aaron continued to have bizarre behaviors that they did not understand.  In addition to continuing to steal from his parents any time he had the opportunity, his parents had just figured out that he had also been urinating into the vents in his room.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss as to how to help him change this behavior and they were terrified that it would continue to get worse.

Children who have experienced trauma can seem to continually engage in activities that can be baffling to parents.  I have had many a parent come in to my practice and describe a foster or adopted child who seems to seek attention in negative ways and to actually work to recreate the circumstances that were traumatizing to them in the first place.  From rooms that seem to get instantly messy immediately after cleaning them, to repetitive behaviors that pluck even the calmest parent’s nerves, these children can seem intent on turning their parents into a recreation of the child’s biological parent or earliest caregiver.  There is a name for this phenomenon.  It is called “traumatic reenactment.”  The best way to explain traumatic reenactment is to first understand how trauma works, and the ways we store it in the brain.

Think of your brain as a computer.  The files in your computer are stored in different areas.  There is a short term memory file that stores what you had for breakfast today and yesterday.  There is a long term memory file that stores the stories from your childhood.  There is the work file, the running “to do” list file, and many, many more.  Days that go as planned are pretty easy to file away.

But what happens on a day when something traumatic happens?  An easy definition of trauma is anything that impacts you in such a way that it causes you to feel as though your life is in serious danger, with the possibility of death, or that changes who you perceive yourself to be in a negative way.  To show how people typically store traumatic memories, let’s take the example of a car accident.  You do not wake up in the morning thinking this is probably going to be the day you are in a car accident.  If you really believed that, you would probably never get into the car.  But, there you are, driving down the road and someone sideswipes the car you are in.  No one is hurt, but there are a few moments of panic and your car is seriously damaged.  What do you do?  Well, of course, as an adult you make sure everyone in both cars is okay, call 911 to make sure no one is hurt, and then the insurance.  But what is happening with your memory filing system?  How are you filing this memory?  It sure does not go in the breakfast file!

What happens with trauma is that, until we file it, it acts like a virus on our computers.  If you have ever had a virus on your computer, you know what happens.  You go to get on the internet and think you are checking your email, only to find all kinds of unwanted images popping up on your computer.  Then, if and when you are able to get to your email, you may find out you sent a bunch of messages to people that were not even from you!  You never sent that!  This is how trauma works.  Until you file that traumatic memory you just got from the car accident, your brain is going to be working overtime to file it.  You will go to get in the car and up will pop the memory of the accident and maybe another accident you had a while back.  You will start to remember those terrifying moments when you were out of control and you did not know if you were going to live or die.

Healthy adults file traumatic memories as they verbally process the trauma.  Remember how you called the police?  You had to tell them what happened so they knew who to send.  You were processing the memory.  Remember when you had to call the insurance?  Same thing.  Did you sit in your car for a moment and do some sort of self-soothing like deep breathing to calm yourself down?  Maybe you got a hug or reassurance from someone.  Perhaps you reminded yourself that you have been in cars thousands of times and the vast majority of those times nothing bad happened.

If you did any of those things, you were processing and filing your memory.  Another part of filing trauma is finding a way to understand the event.  This includes thinking about whether you could have done something differently, how you got through it, and how you can avoid the same thing happening again.  Therapists call that mastering the situation.

Now, think about the child you have or have had in your home who has experienced trauma but did not have anyone to process it with and did not have anyone to soothe them, nor did they know how to self soothe, after all, who would they have learned soothing from?  The clinical term for the way this “virus” manifests is “traumatic reenactment.”  It goes like this.  A trauma occurs.  It is not filed appropriately because there is either no, or not enough, processing or soothing for the child.  The child tries to gain mastery (understanding) of the trauma by subconsciously putting themselves back into the same situation over and over again in an attempt to understand or “master” it.

Remember Aaron?  When Aaron lived with his birth parents he was repeatedly locked in his room for days at a time when his parents went on drug binges.  When his adoptive parents brought him in to see me he was lying and stealing constantly, then, they had recently discovered that when they sent him to his room for punishment, he had been urinating into the vents of their home.  What became clear was that this child had found a way to experience a traumatic reenactment with his adoptive parents.  He lied and stole, then got sent to his room for punishment.  While in his room, he had the emotional experience of feeling trapped again, just as he was trapped when he was very young.  In his mind, being sent to his room meant he was not allowed to come out even to go to the bathroom.  When he had to go, he did what he had before, went in the vents, so he did not have to be around a wet spot in his room.  His loving parents had responded in every way they could think of to change these behaviors, but it was not until they understood where the behaviors were coming from that they were able to adapt their responses to more accurately fix the underlying problems.

In therapy, Aaron processed the trauma, learned how to soothe himself and to be soothed by his parents.  It really did not take long for the vents to become dry again so his parents could focus on new ways to address other issues related to his early abuse and neglect.  For traumatized children, I strongly recommend counseling, with a therapist that specializes in trauma, as a resource to help them process traumatic memories to improve behaviors and help parents find a way to adapt parenting styles in ways that are most beneficial to the child.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Parents Who Worry Their Child Will Harm Others

Child

Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In a departure from my typical Monday affirmation posts, I want to address the recent tragedy in Connecticut and speak to an issue that has not been covered much but needs attention. While many parents worry that something so terrible could happen to their child, many of the parents who come into my office will be asking another question alongside the concern about their child’s safety at school. A good number of the parents I see will be asking whether their child is capable of someday growing up to perpetrate a similar crime. There is a striking article by the Anarchist Soccer Mom, who is not my client, about this very issue. Today I want to write a letter to this parent who has an added layer of grief.

Dear Mom/Dad/guardian/grandparent of a child with violent tendencies and angry outbursts,

I know that the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school has you shaken on many levels. Not only have you been faced with the vulnerability of human life, even children, but you also have had a scary glimpse into something similar to what your deepest darkest fears whisper to you…that your child could perpetrate a similar crime. As a private practice social worker, I work with children who have a history of being violent, angry, destructive, and rage-ful. I want to talk to you about this fear that may be bubbling up to the surface now even though you may have become an expert at keeping it tucked away.

Please do not live in fear. I know that sounds easier than it is, however, some of your most important work will be letting go of the fear of what your child could become. This does not mean pretending that your child is able to maintain and keep reasonable boundaries if she or he is not, it means to focus more time on planning for the success for your child than you do planning for the spiral down. Sometimes as we visualize a worst case scenario we begin to watch for and call forth those behaviors in our children which we most fear. I am not blaming you, just pointing out a human tendency that we have to find that which we seek, confirmation for that which we are looking for.  Have an emergency plan in place, then try to take in out only when needed.

Remember to separate the behaviors of your child from who you believe them to be. All behaviors are a reaction or coping mechanism based on internal or external stimuli. The core essence of your child, like all humans, is good, loving, caring and kind. This is my belief. The work of parents, therapists, teachers, and other adult caregivers is to help a child connect to his or her core perfect self. Sometimes this means helping a child to quiet internal stimuli via medication, acupuncture, physical exercise, and/or dietary changes. Other times or even at the same time, this means helping children to manage external stimuli, like social and family relationships, sensory issues, or physically or emotionally traumatic experiences. When you are working toward this goal PLEASE MAINTAIN HOPE. If you are seeking treatment for your child and it is not working go somewhere else, even if you are coming to see me! Please do not be scared of non-invasive alternative help that science may not have caught up with yet. There are always going to be people who some treatments help and people the same treatments don’t help. There are no cookie cutter treatments or people. Think about taking your child for yoga or meditation. Try Reiki. Look into crainio-sacral therapy. These are all non-invasive treatments and you can research the person you are taking your child to see. Make sure they are licensed in the treatment you are seeking. Ask questions. Yes I’m sure you will find people who think you are going off the rails, but if it works, do you care?

Listen to yourself. You know your child. I have spoken with too many parents who continued to take their child to a practitioner for years that the parent did not like, did not really agree with and did not trust that their child was getting the treatment he or she needed. These parents continued to go because they were told it was important. Treatment is important, however, the most important part of treatment is picking the right person. Just because someone is an expert, it does not mean they will be an expert for your child. If you feel they do not know or “get” you or your child, think about going elsewhere.

Most of all, keep trying. For some mental health issues, especially issues related to impulse control and emotional regulation, a lot depends on brain development. Sometimes we can teach and guide children endlessly toward more positive coping skills, however, they are not able to follow through with the knowledge they have gained until their brain catches up. Many times it is more than a parent or parents can do alone. You need a good team and respite. Don’t be afraid to ask for more help before you need it so you have it in place. For children who are struggling so much they put their parents and siblings in danger, there are inpatient programs that are good and I have seen parents who have figured out some amazing ways to fund a residential program in an attempt to save their child’s life, and it has.

I want to tell you that I have been doing this long enough now that I have seen kids get better. I am talking about kids who picked up knives and shook them at their parents, kids who started fires in their homes on purpose, kids who purposely urinated on furniture and threatened death toward their parents. You don’t hear about those brave children and parents because they don’t make the news…they grow up. They learn to love people and accept love back. They are not in rehab, or jail, they are at work, school or home, or out with their friends. They make mistakes sometimes, just like you do. They experience personal crises, just like you do, and question their lives, just like you, but really, they survive, just like you and they are doing just fine, utilizing the coping skills you worked so hard to make sure they had available to them.

Keep moving forward.

All the best,

Kate

Recommended Posts:

Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)

The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)

How to Know if You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)

December 17, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, discipline, help for parents, keeping children safe, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tips for Gift Giving and the Child With a History of Abuse

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

It is the time of year when many adults are on a mission to find just the right gifts for the special children in their lives. One issue that comes up in my practice around this time of year is that of giving gifts to children who have a history of abuse or neglect. While many adults would love to believe that this is the time of year when we can try to make things right, be it a child who may have missed out on many of the memories that make us misty eyed, or laugh out loud when we think about them. I have spoken with many a parent who wishes to restore the magical elements of the Christmas or Hannukah holiday season by showering children with gifts and creating special memories for children in hopes of replacing older more difficult memories.

To ease the way for adoptive and foster parents of children who have a history of abuse or neglect, I would like to give some food for thought as you decide what will work for your child this holiday.

1. Please be aware that for children who have been abused, gifts may carry a different meaning than they do for other children. Many times the cycle of physical abuse including domestic violence may include gifts from the perpetrator following the abuse as the abusers way of trying to apologize or bribe a child into staying silent. Additionally, a child who has been a victim of sexual abuse may have been offered gifts as part of the process of grooming the child for abuse, or again as a means to apologize or buy silence from the child. If you have a child in your home who has experienced this, or you are uncertain if a child has experienced the giving of gifts as part of a cycle of abuse, please be sure to check in with your child’s therapist to see what you might need to do to help re-write the script for you child when it comes to the giving and receiving of gifts. This process cannot be described in a post because it will need to be individualized for each child. If you are uncertain whether your child has this issue and they do not have a therapist, it is time to start looking for one.

2. When children have a history of abuse or neglect, they tend to miss the lessons we all learn (or don’t learn) as babies about emotional regulation. In other words, whereas the rest of us tend to learn over time that we all have highs and lows, sometimes even in the same day, and we learn to manage those highs and lows, children with an abuse or neglect history have not been taught this same emotional management systems so the highs can seem higher or more agitated and the lows can seem lower. Many parents describe to me that their adopted or foster child just can’t seem to stop when things are going well and find a way to get into trouble every time they have a good day. If you have a child like this, I would suggest that for the child’s benefit, you pare down your festivities to something that is more meaningful to them and which does not get them more over-excited than they already are. A few thoughtful gifts will be more meaningful and easier to manage than a tree that has many, many gifts underneath it.

3. Remember your child may not have learned about the same traditions you have around holidays and birthdays. I have had children tremble and shake in my office over the idea of “birthday spankings,” because they actually got painful birthday spankings in their birth family, or because a foster or adoptive parent mentioned them as a joke, but the child in question did not hear it as a joke but as a threat. Similarly, I have had children in my office who have had Christmas taken away as punishment for being bad, or had gifts given only to be repossessed by parents the next day. Some children have had traumas specific to a given day, for example, witnessing domestic violence at Thanksgiving or seeing a parent get hurt by another parent who did not agree with how much money was spent on a child’s gift. Children may have been given an internal message that all gifts bring pain of some sort with them, whether it is the pain of disappointment, physical or emotional pain, or the feeling of being unworthy of a gift. Again, if you are concerned that this is an issue for your child, the time is now to begin discussing it with your child’s therapist to see about recognizing and rewriting old belief patterns.

4. Consider whether your child may need you to walk them through the gift giving process in your family. Most of us do not think about it, but each family really does do things in a unique way. Letting your child know how this family does it, will be helpful to them so they know what is going to happen next.

5. Avoid labeling gifts as secrets, as in, “Don’t tell Mom we got this for her. It’s a secret.” Instead try something like, “We are going to surprise mom with this gift. It’s okay to keep this surprise until she gets it.” It may seem like a small distinction but for kids with the kind of history we are talking about I always try to teach the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises= safe and good, secrets= unsafe and bad. As children grow and begin to feel safer in their day to day life, we can get less concrete about this issue.

6. Remember to receive any gift your child gives you with love and acceptance being extra sure that they do not hear critique of their gift as you receive it. Remember to that your child, for all of the above reasons and more, may have difficulty giving a gift to you as it may symbolize for them any number of difficult memories, or remind them of a relationship they have a major internal conflict about.

While I know this post may remind you of some issues you would rather forget during the season, one wonderful things I have seen over the years is how parents of adoptive and foster children work so hard to come up with the combination of experiences that best meet their child’s needs. If you are a foster or adoptive parent of a child adopted at an older age with a history of abuse or neglect, please feel free to chime in with any other tips you have. I would love to hear about things that went right and things you would have changed if you could go back in time.

November 21, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, keeping children safe, mental health | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious- 11/12/12

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Curious children gather around photographer To...

Curious children gather around photographer Toni Frissell, looking at her camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weeks affirmation for parents focuses on the “c” in Daniel Hughes concept of PLACE Parenting, the attitude of curiosity. Curiosity in parenting is absolutely essential and often overlooked. By being curious, we can avoid a lot of misunderstandings with our children that are based on our own quick assumptions that we always know what they are thinking. I see so many issues in my office which arise that could have been avoided from the beginning had parents used a parenting strategy that incorporated curiosity. Being curious is especially important for my readers who have children with attachment disturbance as those children often see and understand the world quite differently than we adults expect them to.

When I suggest that parents get curious, what I mean is that when children are angry or upset, rather than assume that we know what they are angry or upset about, get curious. I remember a time when my nephew, who was five, was at my house playing with my girls. The play got a bit rough and I ended up fussing at him. He is not used to me fussing at him, and when I looked at him, I was surprised. While I anticipated he would be upset, or seem repentant, what I saw was him to see him glaring at me, chin down, eyes up, fists clenched, shoulders hunched, and breathing through his gritted teeth. My instant response was that he was angry with me for correcting him, but, rather than assuming, I got curious. I took a breath and using a light tone, (think Mr. Rogers) I asked him if there was something he was upset about. He replied that he was very angry. Rather than assuming he was angry with me, which would have been easy, since I was the one he was glaring and blinking rapidly at, I asked who he was angry with. His response surprised me again. He blurted out, “I’m angry with myself!” and burst into tears.

Imagine the difference in response from believing that your child is angry with you, to understanding that your child is angry with himself. Doesn’t the knowledge change the response? When we take an attitude of genuine curiosity with our children, the result is that we deepen our understanding of them, and our relationship with them.

Often, I have parents ask me to give them words to use with children. Here are some phrases that work well when coming from a curious place.

  • I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from, can you help me?
  • I’m curious about what has you upset?
  • I’m wondering what you think just happened?
  • What do you think about that?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • I wonder what you think I said that?

Please remember that the tone of curiosity is as important, if not more important than the words. After all the words, “What were you thinking?” can be said in many different ways. The tone of genuinely wanting to know where a child is coming from is essential in using this technique. I am sure if you begin to explore this your children will surprise you with their responses. I would love to hear about it if they do. Also remember, that we are incorporating the other parts of the PLACE attitude, like “accepting,” so that whatever your child’s response is, you accept that that is what they were thinking, rather than trying to talk them out of it. Here is response and a question you can ask with curiosity if your child says something that you have difficulty accepting. “It makes sense you are feeling that way if that is what you think happened. Is it possible, it could have been something else?” Make sure you give a moment between the acceptance and the question.

I am curious to find out how this goes for you. Really! Please feel free to share your findings from your own adventures in curiosity this week in the comments below, or via email: helpforyourfamily@gmail.com. This week’s affirmation is:

I no longer jump to conclusions. I am curious about all areas of my child’s emotional and physical well-being.

November 12, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, attachment disorder, discipline, help for parents, Parenting | , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance

A mother holds up her child.

A mother holds up her child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

When you have a child with any sort of attachment disturbance, you also have a child that is very good at making you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.  In one training I went to on attachment disturbance, the presenter, Art Becker-Weidman said one of the parents he worked with described it something like this:  ‘It’s like you as the parent are the control station for a radio station, then the kids come up and play with all the buttons until they find one that gets the response they are looking for.  When they find that button that gets them what they want, they just keep flipping the switch over and over again.’  I have used this description with the parents that come through my own practice and find it resonates deeply with them as well.  What to do when you have a child that is constantly pushing your buttons and finding creative ways to make you feel like you don’t have a clue what you are doing?

Daniel Hughes and Art Becker-Weidman are working to popularize a parenting attitude that really can work wonders if parents are able to maintain it when they have an attachment disordered child (or any child for that matter).  It is called the PLACE mentality, it stands for: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic.  I find that while the words are familiar it can be easy to misinterpret the meanings of those words in this particular context so let’s look at each word to see what we are talking about when it comes to parenting children using the PLACE mentality.

Playful–  The most common misinterpretation of this quality is that parents believe I want them to throw a parade in their child’s honor every time they do something desirable to the parent.  What I mean by playful is just finding an approach that has a less authoritarian tone.  Instead of telling kids where to go to find their glasses, encourage them to play a little game with you where they have to look at your face for them to give you a hint where the glasses are.  When they look into your face and lie, come up with a playful response “That’s a good one.  I’ve always known you were creative.  Tell me another!”  Often being playful can help everyone tone it down a notch.  If you have a child with a history of abuse or neglect, it can also keep them from getting triggered into believing that they are in huge trouble and helps prevent them from going into fight or flight mode so that you have some chance of them hearing some of the words you are saying.  A way to really get playful is to learn from a parent that really gets this stuff.  Christine Moers is a mom raising adopted children with attachment issues.  She posts vlogs on youtube to help other parents (and to keep herself sane).  Her video blog:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAALaVG27k&feature=fvwrel is a wonderful example of how to discipline in a playful way.   I would recommend you look at her videos when you need help staying sane.

Loving– When I think of saying things in a loving way to children, what really helps me to stay in that place is remembering my purpose for saying the words in the first place. Yes, ultimately I may be asking my child to do a task because I want it done. But the bigger picture reason for asking children to do a task is to teach them so that they know how to do it, to give them a system for tackling problems, to get them into the routine of caring for themselves and planning how to fit everything into a schedule, or something else like that. In the end, our job as parents is to make it so that our children no longer need us in order to make it through the day. When we remember that we are asking our children to do something because we love them and want them to be happy, healthy adults, we can state requests in a more loving way. By remembering this, I believe the primary change is our tone of voice, which makes a world of difference to children with attachment disturbance.

Accepting– One trap I see so many parents walk into is the argument with their child(ren) about whether their child is having a reasonable feeling or not.  Both the child and parent find this is a way to feel crazy pretty quickly and I would like to present an alternative…acceptance.  Here is how it goes, maybe it sounds familiar:

Child comes down to breakfast dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit for school

Parent (being curious):  Wow, is there something going on at school today?  That’s an interesting outfit.

Child: I knew you wouldn’t let me wear it!  You never let me wear anything I want!  You’re such a witch!  You want me to be the ugliest girl in school!

Parent (accepting):  That made you mad.  I can see how you would be mad if you thought I wanted you to be the ugliest girl in school.

It’s that simple- do not engage in an argument about whether you want her to be the ugliest girl in school!  If that is her belief in that moment, accept that her feeling is appropriate for the interpretation.

Curious– In my office, I often frame this curiosity as being a “feelings detective.”  I tell kids I ask lots of questions because I am a very curious person and sometimes it takes me a while to understand things.  Get curious about your children.  In the above example, rather than arguing about who wants whom to look ugly, you might get curious about it.  “I wonder what made you think I wanted you to look ugly when I asked about your outfit.”  Another way to help with getting kids to understand you are curious (not judgmental) is to say something along the lines of, “I’m curious what got you so mad because I don’t want you to feel that way again. ”  When they tell you what got them mad, again make sure you avoid arguing about whether that is really what happened (accepting) and then …empathize.

Empathy– Empathy looks like this,” If I thought someone felt that way about me/ said that to me/said that about me I can see how you would feel mad/sad/ scared too.”  That’s all empathy is being able to see something from the viewpoint of another person.  Empathy does not involve any discussion about whether someone is right or wrong for feeling the way they are feeling.

So, why does this work?  It works because our children with attachment disturbance find the things we need to do most often, educate, speak with authority, and parenting, to name a few, to be triggers to them of things that remind them of times they were hurt or  neglected.  When kids do not learn the typical role of parents early on, they easily misinterpret the actions of parents.  Using the PLACE mentality is one way of reducing the number of triggers for your child, not to mention that it just makes parenting more fun.  I use it with my own securely attached children as well.  Of course, this is a very quick overview of the PLACE mentality.  It is important that if you feel you are in a position with your child(ren) where you need to utilize the PLACE attitude more and could use support in doing so, that you see a therapist that has an attachment informed practice.

October 18, 2012 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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